New Healthcare Law ("Obamacare") Headed for Supreme Court Decision

On Monday, November 14, 2011, the United States Supreme Court announced it would take up the constitutionality of the new healthcare law, which has been dubbed “Obamacare.”  We have reported on various challenges in Federal District Courts around the country in previous blogs (December 27, 2010, January 18, 2011, February 1, 2011, March 16, 2011, and May 19, 2011). The primary issue before the Supreme Court is the “mandate,” a provision which requires that all Americans buy healthcare coverage or pay a penalty.

When President Obama was a candidate for President, during his campaign, he vigorously opposed the “mandate.” He insisted Americans should not be required to buy health insurance. In a February 2008 airing of the Ellen DeGeneres show, President Obama explained, “if things were that easy, I could mandate everyone to buy a house, and that would solve the problem of homelessness.  It doesn’t.” President Obama may wish that he had stuck to his guns, after he was elected President. In July 2009, after the Presidential election, President Obama advised that he was “in favor of some type of individual mandate, as long as there’s a hardship exemption” for people who truly cannot afford to buy insurance (CBS News, July 2009). Ultimately, the mandate made it into the bill, the theory behind the mandate, according to its proponents, is requiring coverage brings both sick and healthy people into the pool of those insured, which is essential because premiums paid by the healthy offset the cost of covering the sick. Without a mandate, healthy people wait until they are ill to buy insurance, which leads to what policy analysts call a “death spiral” in which premiums skyrocket out of control.

If the law is struck down, it will put the issue to bed 4 months before the Presidential election and fire up the Democratic base, who will see the Supreme Court decision as another Bush v. Gore Supreme Court ruling and will serve as a wallet-widening rallying cry for the Democratic party. On the other hand, if the Supreme Court upholds the “Affordable Healthcare Act,” it will validate a two year legislative struggle. Some experts even say that if the bill had imposed a tax on Americans who did not have insurance – rather than requiring them to buy a policy – the entire legal fight might have been avoided. Now it is too late for reconsideration, the Republicans in Congress want to repeal the law, not rewrite it.

References: Health Watch blog and New York Time article.

A recent Gallup Poll (“Nation Now” blog) reported on November 16, 2011, found that while “healthcare reform remains a highly partisan divide . . . more Americans want to repeal the Obama administration’s 2010 overhaul than want to leave it alone.” The poll shows that 47% of the Americans want to do away with Obamacare, while 42% want to keep it in place.

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